In April of this year, Urban Indy put together a list of questions for the Republican and Democrat candidates for Mayor in the 2011 election here in Indianapolis. Our questions are more than you would see in the usual media sources and are focused on issues that our readers find important. Topics such as transit, neighborhood development, environment, education, food and jobs were all given focused consideration. The Q & A below is how Republican candidate, and incumbent Greg Ballard, answered. For his campagn website, please click here.
Q: How do you envision purposing RebuildIndy funds in coming years to invest in the neighborhoods of Indianapolis?
A: We must make Indianapolis the type of city where families want to live, businesses want to create jobs and neighborhoods can thrive. When I came to office in 2008, there was no plan in place to tackle the problem of crumbling infrastructure throughout Indianapolis.
In 2011 already, through our RebuildIndy program, $142 million is being invested in repairing our roads, bridges, and sidewalks. This is a sharp contrast to previous years when caring for the basic needs of our neighborhoods was a casualty of budget cuts. In previous years, the City spent only $10-$15 million a year in resurfacing and repaired 2-3 bridges annually. This year alone, construction has begun on 27 bridges.
We are developing RebuildIndy into a multi-year program and working hard to leverage the dollars we have in order to turn it into an even larger program that can be sustained for many years to come. The utility transfer has resulted in over $400 million dollars for us to invest in infrastructure; we plan to leverage that with state and federal dollars in order to address as much of our critical infrastructure need as possible.
Q: Would you be willing to support options that allow neighborhoods to levy taxes on themselves to invest in specific infrastructure projects? (ie: sidewalks, transit stops, bike trails, etc)
A: The City is currently making massive infrastructure improvements through the $400 million RebuildIndy program funded by the water and wastewater utility transfer. These improvements will address many of the issues our neighborhoods are facing.
Neighborhoods do have resources that can be used for special infrastructure projects. State statute, for example, allows for economic improvement districts (EID). If a majority of the property owners in a neighborhood want to pool their money for special purposes, they can elect to create an EID.
I support neighborhood self-sufficiency. If a neighborhood wants to create an EID to fund the installation of an urban garden, create a special memorial, complete façade work, or repair sidewalks, that is a decision the neighborhood can make locally. My office will be happy to work with them and continue to make RebuildIndy improvements in neighborhoods across Marion County.
Q: How important is it to invest in redeveloping areas such as the Lafayette Square neighborhood and what level of commitment to changing the built form to create a friendly space should the city take upon itself?
A: The success of what is planned for the Lafayette Square neighborhood is due in large part to the strong partnership between the Lafayette Square Coalition and the City. This partnership enabled the community to have significant feedback on the planned improvements. As this work moves forward, the City will continue to work closely with the community group to be sure the project reflects community priorities.
Redeveloping areas like these are critical to strengthening our neighborhoods and growing our city. The City must continue to work with neighborhood and community groups to create spaces such as these all over Indianapolis.
Q: Do you support changes to zoning codes to reduce parking requirements, increase options for mixed use, and create a more dense urban core? (ie: Form Based Codes)
A: Planning is a critical element of growing Indianapolis. We must carefully balance the needs of neighborhoods with the desire to grow businesses. We will continue to use the City’s planning process to identify good opportunities for redevelopment and growth.
Zoning is necessary to protect the minimum standards for development in our City. It protects, for example, against a factory being opened in a residential area. But, beyond the extremes, zoning is generally—and not unfairly—viewed as an overly complicated and time-consuming process. The City’s zoning requirements and processes have not undergone a comprehensive review in decades. As part of my goal to make government more open and easier to work with and to encourage sustainable urban development to make Indianapolis a more livable big city, we will undergo a comprehensive review of zoning and seek to improve the process.
Q: Do you support enforcement of existing penalties for residents who do not shovel their sidewalks of snow in the winter where sidewalks do exist?
A: I believe there are better ways to encourage residents and business owners to shovel their sidewalks. Though the law does allow for this penalty to be enforced, last year we increased awareness of the ordinance and many media outlets helped to notify residents – which achieved a level of success. During snow events, the City must prioritize resources appropriately. Our first goal is to educate and encourage residents to do their part as responsible citizens to shovel walks and make it easier for our pedestrians and school children to travel safely.
Q: Does IndyConnect sufficiently address the issues of investing in the city core versus transferring investment to the suburban areas?
A: I initiated Indy Connect to bring together public and private voices in the critical planning of a regional mass transit system for our metropolitan area. I believe an economically viable and sustainable regional mass transit system is vital to our continued growth as a region. I am focused on developing a plan that provides new opportunities for development and economic growth to our neighborhoods.
We still need an analysis of the economic impact and benefits, as well as the cost to taxpayers, in order to prepare a proposal to voters for referendum. The legislature is currently considering this and while the economic impact information is completed, we must also consider the funding source. I believe mass transit is important to the future of our city and I will work with the legislature and other organizations to advance a sound proposal.
Q: Are you supportive of more urban based rail projects that address local transportation options for city residents versus the concerns for regional mobility? (ie: light rail, modern streetcars, BRT dedicated guideways, etc)
A: I am generally supportive of more urban based rail projects provided that we allow for public input and can locate funding for these efforts. Mass transit has been discussed in Indianapolis for the past twenty years. There was not, however, much movement to take the idea and make it a reality.
In 2009, I went to the business community to start moving the ball forward. The result is Indy Connect. After twenty years of discussion, there is finally a regional mass transit plan developed by transit experts with public input from over 125 community meetings.
The IndyConnect plan calls for more buses, light rail and BRT. There is no one silver bullet for improving our mass transit system. Solving our transportation challenges will require providing a multitude of transportation options and that is exactly what IndyConnect aims to do.
Q: Should an Indianapolis Mayor champion a cause to reduce local spending on roads and devote more of it to transit?
A: I do not believe we need to choose between infrastructure and other transit options. Our City’s infrastructure has been neglected for so long that our roads are literally crumbling. We have to ensure that our residents are able to use our roads without damaging their cars. IndyGo buses must have roads and streets that are suitable to drive on as well.
There is value, however, in providing additional transportation options. As we resurface roads, bicycle lanes are being added. The goal is to create transportation options so individuals can choose how they would prefer to travel whether by car, foot, bike, bus or rail.
Q: How important is it to employ local workers for local infrastructure? At what point do we look at out of town/state laborers?
A: It is important that the City does all it can to encourage our contractors to hire local workers on our projects. We are asking our contractors to prioritize and work with local organizations for hiring practices.
In addition to encouraging our contractors to hire local workers, we have also worked hard to increase the equality of opportunity throughout our City contract process since I took office in 2008. The amount of work that women-owned businesses have received from the City went from $2 million in 2007 to $44 million in 2010 while work with minority –owned businesses increased from $15 million to $90 million.
Q: What is your point of view on privatization of public assets? (ie: parking meters, utilities, etc)
A: As our record shows, we think privatization can be a great solution in the right circumstances.
The recently completed utilities transfer is a great win-win because it not only depoliticizes the utility, but also has resulted in a tremendous investment in our infrastructure.
The lease of the parking meters is also a solid transaction. Though it may require an adjustment period, the ability to use credit and debit cards in the meters has been met with rave reviews—over 40% of transactions on those new meters are done without cash. That is a clear indication that Indy residents and visitors are embracing this new technology. And with the feedback we received from the public, the City modified the contract with the ParkIndy team to allow us opportunities to get out of the contract if the deal is no longer beneficial to the City. So, done in the right way and with the right terms, these are great ways to leverage our assets.
Q: What is your opinion on “green” infrastructure?
A: When I was first elected, there was no concerted effort in city government to increase sustainability. I created the City’s first Office of Sustainability to explore how we as a City could become more sustainable in an effort to better serve our environment as well as taxpayers by being more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
I firmly believe that green infrastructure must be fully integrated alongside traditional, “gray” infrastructure. The implementation of green infrastructure was overlooked in city government prior to 2008. Since then, we have completed the city’s first-ever sustainable alleys with pervious concrete. We pursue the installation of rain gardens as storm water solutions. We are actively looking for opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure into RebuildIndy projects and are encouraging the private sector to do the same when they are doing development and construction projects.
For the first time ever, the City is proactively seeking opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure. This year, we announced the creation of the Green Checklist. This is a document that is used by our engineering department to evaluate construction and capital projects for
Incorporating sustainable design and green infrastructure into city projects. As a result, we have added permeable pavement, porous concrete, bioswales and rain gardens to several projects.
In 2009, we created the Green Supplemental Document which was designed to provide technical guidance to the engineering and design community for how to build green infrastructure projects our city.
We are not only providing guidance on green infrastructure but we are also providing incentives to build green with the creation of the city’s first-ever green building incentive for green construction. Indianapolis has 39 ENERGY STAR-labeled buildings and has doubled the number of LEED-certified projects. This includes Eskenazi Health (The New Wishard) that is seeking to be not only an outstanding medical facility, but also ranking among the most advanced in the country for energy efficiency and environmental design. Eskenazi Health will seek LEED Silver certification for the new facility.
Additionally, the City is leading by example and has retrofitted over 60 city-county buildings to lower taxpayers’ cost of operating facilities through energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.
Our efforts to incorporate green infrastructure is one of the reasons that we were named the 2010 Green Community of the Year by the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.
Q: What is the right mix of “green” vs status quo? (ie: rain gardens, Cultural Trail, pervious concrete, etc)
A: Our current approach of evaluating projects for sustainable solutions and implementing sustainable solutions alongside traditional solutions is working well.
Each project must be evaluated individually to determine if including sustainable solutions is the best course of action. Sometimes sustainable solutions are more costly and as a result, we need to make sure they are implemented in locations where it makes the most sense and can be maintained for the long run.
We are also making it easier for others to build green in this City with the Green Building Incentive that encourages the private sector to incorporate green infrastructure and energy efficiency efforts into their buildings.
Additionally, we have made tremendous strides in becoming a more bicycle friendly city. In 2008, Indianapolis had less than one mile of bike lanes. By the end of 2011, over 60 miles of bicycle lanes will be in place. The League of American Bicyclists designated Indianapolis as a Bicycle Friendly Community in 2010. Bicycling Magazine listed Indianapolis among the top 50 most bike-friendly cities in the country. Indianapolis has come a long way toward becoming a more sustainable city over the last three years, but there is still much work to be done and we will continue to move forward toward Indianapolis becoming one of the most sustainable cities in the Midwest.
Q: How might you support access to green space and recreational activities, especially among underserved communities like young people, seniors and those with limited proximity to parks?
A: Access to green space and recreational activities is an important component of a thriving city. Greenways, trails, bike lanes and the Cultural Trail connect many of our great spaces and parks. I am committed to increasing the number of greenways, trails, and bike lanes across the City to help ensure that more residents have access to these amenities.
RebuildIndy is connecting people to parks and greenspaces with improved infrastructure and connectivity near Indy Parks and will continue to look for those opportunities.
The City has several partnership programs for both indoors and outside activities through leagues and clubs for seniors and youth. One recent example is the Indy Parks partnership with Oasis. Oasis offers a broad range of classes in the arts, humanities, wellness, fitness and travel, as well as volunteer opportunities for seniors. We must continue to explore public-private partnerships to bring opportunities to our residents.
Q: How do you see Indianapolis’ school systems contributing to community redevelopment efforts?
A: I am optimistic about education in Indianapolis. With education reforms that recently passed the state legislature, the expansion of charters schools and a community sense that the status quo is not acceptable, there is a consensus for positive student-focused change.
As I said in my State of the City address, improving our schools plays a crucial role in building an attractive urban environment. Indianapolis needs schools that parents want to move to – not from. That is why I have proposed that we take steps to make Indianapolis the national headquarters for the education reform movement.
Any city that unlocks the secrets to consistently high quality education and graduation rates, combined with strong post-secondary opportunities, will be a magnet for the businesses of the future.
As schools are strengthened, neighborhoods are as well. From this strength, community redevelopment efforts can have a foundation and am impetus to grow.
Indianapolis public, private and public-charter schools are making progress.We have some outstanding public schools in our community, but we also have too many schools that are failing our children. That is why intervention becomes necessary and other options must be available.
The education of our children shapes our future as a city. Our community objective must be to have schools that are among the best performing in the nation. I believe we will get there so long as we start with the premise that each child deserves a student-centered, learning focused environment.
We are thankful for the partnerships with the community that also help to strengthen Indianapolis schools. Goodwill’s Excel Centers provide the opportunity for high school dropouts to go back to school and get a diploma instead of a GED. Kroger has been a tremendous partner with financial support for literacy as well as volunteer hours from their employees.
Relationships such as these help to not only strengthen our schools, but enable us to lay a foundation for community redevelopment through stronger schools.
Q: What, if any, additional efforts would you champion to improve local schools?
A: I have taken a strong leadership role regarding education by advocating for education reforms in the state legislature, expanding the city’s Office of Education Innovation, and increasing the number of Mayor-sponsored charter schools in Indianapolis to provide better options for more Indianapolis parents and students – and enrollment has increased.
Charter schools have seen great success. Nearly 90% of the Mayor-sponsored Charter High School graduates enrolled in 2 or 4-year college programs. A recent Stanford University study found that charter school student performance in Indianapolis outpaced students in traditional public schools in learning gains. We are getting national attention for our success. Last year the Walton family pledged $1.3 million through their family foundation to help develop new community-anchored charter schools in Indianapolis.
In 2010, Indianapolis was the first city in the nation to develop a plan to transition private catholic schools into public charter schools. We launched the Excel Center Charter School to help adults finish high school and it already has a 2,000 person waiting list for admission.I approved the launch of the Damar Charter Academy to specialize in serving students with significant cognitive, behavioral, or developmental challenges.
We are implementing creative solutions for Indianapolis and education. This spring, I was the only mayor invited by the United Way to participate in a national town hall meeting about education moderated by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, sharing ourvision and passion for improving education in Indianapolis.
I successfully lobbied the state legislature to gain the right to petition the state for local oversight of state takeover schools which will allow for more local input. Now, with several Indianapolis Public Schools identified by the Indiana Department of Education as “failing,” our primary focus must be on achieving the best possible results for the students at these specific schools. In 2012, I will petition the General Assembly to integrate local oversight into these schools’ turn around programs.
I recently announced my vision to make Indianapolis the national headquarters for education reform. We are already home to many successful reform-minded organizations and we should welcome more organizations and ideas to help make a positive difference in our children’s education. As part of our proposal, we will also launch a charter school incubator with the goal of nearly doubling the number of charter schools in the city. I also proposed creating charter schools that target high-growth job sectors, like life sciences, so we can prepare students for jobs of the future in areas we know are growing here locally.
Q: What would you do, as mayor, to increase access to high-quality foods throughout our community?
A: The City has provided leadership by encouraging urban gardens and making city owned vacant property available to people who want to grow food. Last November, I announced the goal of creating 50 urban gardens in Center Township alone—and we have done it with over 40 already producing fresh food. This goal arose out of a very clear need in our urban core to eliminate food deserts and provide access to high quality, fresh foods.
While we work to achieve these goals, the City is committed to safety. We are working closely with the Marion County Health Department to have soil tested prior to releasing garden plots from the Land Bank to the community and providing educational information for those using their own land for urban gardening.
We have seen the private sector increasing their involvement in this area as well. A few examples include the Garden on the Go mobile produce truck by IUHealth, gardens in IPS Schools, and the Indy Parks foundation garden on the eastside. The new Eskenazi Health facility will feature a first-of-its-kind sky farm, where they will grow organic foods to offer its patients, visitors and staff healthful diet options.
Additionally, we are working to promote farmers markets where people can buy fresh local produce. There are at least 12 farmers markets throughout Marion County, including two winter markets and 10 that run through the spring, summer and autumn months.
Q: Specifically, what ideas do you have to address “food deserts” and food insecurity in Indianapolis?
A: I believe urban gardens and farmers markets are key solutions to the issue of food deserts. To be successful, we need neighborhoods to work together and we need the City to assist where possible.
As mentioned in the previous question, we have made city owned vacant property available to those who want to grow food. We have partnered with the Purdue Extension of Marion County to educate people on how to grow food. We set a goal to have 50 urban gardens in Center Township and we achieved that goal. Finally, our Office of Sustainability promotes farmers markets and has hosted an “Indy Urban Farming Forum” to aid in those efforts.
Additionally, the City has taken steps to address availability of food through the Indianapolis Food Resource Network (IFRN). IFRN was developed to bring the many charitable organizations working to provide food to those in need together with the goal of having enough food, when and where it is needed, for all who need it. The result is the increased success of projects including Pack the Pantries, Summer Servings (which provides meals to anyone under 18 throughout the summer), and the Gleaners Back Sack Program (which provides groceries for those children who need additional nutritional support over the weekend or when they are out of school for a few days). IFRN hopes to engage more children in these types of programs to support their 2015 goal that no child goes hungry in Indianapolis.